With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just days away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
The imposing statue of 12th century social reformer Basavanna overlooks Lake Bhishma in Gadag town. The sight brings back memories of a vachana, forgotten long ago in the hustle and bustle of hectic city life.
“Ullavaru Shivalaya Maduvaru…” the vachana is profound, deep, and soft.
Most handloom weavers in Gadag could identify themselves with the vachana, which roughly translates to “the wealthy construct temples”. What will the poor do?
Ashok Bannad is one among them. The president of BB Bannad Handloom Weavers’ Association, he is disappointed over the government’s failure in addressing the grievances of weavers.
And then, there is rampant corruption in government offices.
The rhythmic, and meditative sound of looms is a constant in Gadag-Betageri, the land of six-yards of feminine grace. However, the lives of weavers are not colourful like the flowing charm of Betageri sarees.
“There were over 50,000 families who had handloom units in Gadag-Betageri till two-three decades ago. Now, their number has come down below 5,000,” Ashok Bannad, who has 15 handloom units, said.
“The handloom units are declining with each passing day but the government is not bothered,” he lamented.
There was a time when women crowded textile shops and handloom units to purchase the traditional sarees. Now, the demand for Betageri sarees has drastically dipped while the price of raw materials has gone up.
Lack of skilled labourers, too, has hit the sector.
“The price of the raw materials has skyrocketed, and the government-imposed five percent GST on handloom fabrics, which was earlier exempted,” Ashok Bannad told South First.
“If we approach any department seeking the benefits of various government schemes, we have to pay around 80 percent of the sanctioned amount as bribe. The officials in the textile department are not only corrupt but also lazy,” he alleged.
“The elected members direct us to officials. With high production cost and low profits, how could we bribe them,” he fumed, adding that the officials make them run from pillar to post if they don’t pay up.
Basavanna’s vachana keeps playing in the mind, as if in a loop: “Ullavaru Shivalaya Maduvaru…”
Ground Report: Muthalik likely party pooper for BJP in Karkala
Demand for handloom cluster
Kiran Bannad, a third-generation weaver, has a solution.
“The government should set up a handloom cluster and textile park to boost the sector and encourage weavers in Gadag. If the textile park is established, it will solve half of the problems, Kiran Bannad said.
Gadag-Betageri has a Handloom Technology Institute. “It’s not helping,” he told South First.
“Students prefer working in garments and other related factories in Bengaluru since the wages here are less. The government should find a way to save the weavers,” he demanded.
Weaver and daily-wage labourer Chidanandappa M is 75 and he still works.
“The government has a provision to provide ₹5,000 to weavers under the Nekara Saman Yojana. But it is not being implemented properly,” he pointed out.
“We don’t have any other skills and are completely dependent on handloom units,” Chidanandappa told South First, casting a blank look at the mist-topped hills.
Ground Report: In Bhatkal, it is BJP vs Congress — and Tanzeem’s last word
In nature’s lap
Gadag town is known for its rich cultural heritage, ancient temples, and flourishing printing industry.
The printing industry in Gadag is believed to have started in the early 20th century. Since then, it has grown significantly and became one of the major local sources of employment.
The landscape of Gadag is characterised by lush green forests and grass-carpeted hills. The forests around Gadag are rich in flora and fauna.
The forests are home to a wide variety of animals, including leopards, deer and peacock.
Apart from its natural beauty, Gadag is also famous for its ancient temples. The town has several temples that date back to the 11th and 12th centuries.
These temples are examples of Chalukya architecture and are renowned for their intricate carvings and sculptures. The 117.6-foot statue of social reformer Basavanna is one of the star attractions in Gadag.
The town has all the required infrastructure for education and health. It has an engineering and a medical college. It also boasts of hospitals with modern facilities.
Ground Report: It’s caste and candidate first in Bhalki
Issues in Gadag
Though Gadag has made rapid strides in development recently, it has severe drinking water issues, poor drainage facilities, and inadequate employment opportunities.
The drinking water issue is so severe that the authorities supply drinking water once a week or 10 days. With no rivers flowing in the region, the entire town is dependent on the Tungabhadra river.
“The drinking water issue is not confined only to the summer months. It is here throughout the year. Successive governments and the elected members have completely failed to solve the drinking water issue in the town,” Sharanappa Kadabinakatti, a resident of Gadag town, told South First.
He claimed that the citizens have now adapted to water shortage.
“Hardly anyone questions the MLA on the issue. The town is growing in terms of population but this major issue has remained unaddressed for decades now,” he said, blaming the authorities for the poor drainage system in the town as well.
Raghavendra Kulkarni, a resident of Basaveshwara Nagar, drew attention to unemployment.
“We have institutions that offer professional courses but there are no industries that provide employment,” he said.
The youth are dependent on Bengaluru, Pune or Hyderabad for jobs. “The government has to develop Hubballi as an alternative city for the IT industry and Gadag and surrounding districts for the hardware industry,” Kulkarni, a software engineer, said.
“At least the authorities concerned should bring small-scale industries to provide jobs for the educated youth,” he suggested.
The Gadag Assembly segment is likely to witness a fierce fight between the Congress’s veteran leader HK Patil and BJP’s young face Anil P Mensinakai in the 10 May polls.
The Congress has dominated the Assembly elections in Gadag. In the past 11 Assembly polls, the Congress won a record nine times, the BJP and Janata Paksha won once each.
In 2018, Patil won the polls by a thin margin of 1,868 votes against the BJP’s Menasinakai.
Patil has represented the segment four times in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. He suffered a defeat against BJP’s Bidarur Srishilappa Veerupakshappa in 2008.
The JD(S) has fielded Venkangouda Govindagoudar, who is making his debut in electoral politics.
“This election will witness a close fight between the Congress and the BJP. In the previous election, BJP’s Mensinakai had given a tough time to the Congress,” political commentator JK Jamadar told South First.
Ground Report: BJP highlights hijab and beef to win votes in Udupi
The seva team
“Patil constituted a seva team in Gadag recently. The team provided door-to-door services including helping the needy to apply for government schemes and benefits,” he explained.
“It has impressed the people in the segment. Even during the Covid-19 days, he has done good work for the people,” Jamadar said.
Lingayats, specifically the Panchamasali, have announced their support to the Congress. “However, they are not united,” Jamadar said.
“The BJP’s candidate is young and a close aide of BJP’s senior ST (Scheduled Tribe) leader B Sriramulu. His development and social works in Gadag while he was the district in-charge minister between 2008 and 2013 improved the image of the party here,” he added.
The saffron party is banking heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win votes. Many people do not know Mensinakai.
“The Congress has an edge,” Jamadar opined, adding that the JD(S) does not have much clout in the segment.
Ground Report: BJP rides Modi’s popularity to take on Congress in Shorapur
Lingayats, Muslims, Kurubas and Scheduled Castes and STs are the dominant communities in the Gadag Assembly seat.
Brahmins, SSK (Somavamsha Sahasrarjuna Kshatriya), and weavers are the other influential groups.
Lingayats have over 40,000 votes, Muslims have around 45,000 votes, Kurubas have over 25,000 votes, SSK have around 12,000 votes, and Brahmins have over 8,000 votes in Gadag.
“The people consider party, development and caste while exercising their franchise,” Jamadar said.
There are 2.21 lakh voters in Gadag. Among them 1, 09,624 lakh are men and 1,11,433 lakh, women.